Dec 7, 2021 - World

Scoop: Rubio demands Airbnb de-list rentals on Chinese land owned by sanctioned group

Marco Rubio

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a letter to Airbnb on Tuesday demanding that the company de-list more than a dozen rentals on land owned by a Chinese paramilitary organization sanctioned by the U.S. for complicity in genocide.

Why it matters: The letter comes in the wake of an Axios investigation that revealed 14 Airbnb listings on land owned by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which operates some facilities in Xinjiang where more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been detained since 2017.

  • The XPCC is also involved in the production of approximately one-third of the region's cotton, an industry that widely utilizes Uyghur coerced labor. The Airbnb listings had not been removed as of the publication of this story.
  • An Airbnb spokesperson told Axios during its initial investigation that the Treasury Department's sanctions rules "require Airbnb to screen the parties we are transacting with, not the underlying landowners."

What they're saying: "How a paramilitary organization complicit in heinous human rights abuses could pass such a screen is beyond comprehension," Rubio wrote in a letter to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

  • "By continuing to allow these listings, Airbnb is implicitly endorsing and encouraging travel to Xinjiang, a region host to an ongoing genocide."

The big picture: Airbnb, like many U.S. companies, has continued to conduct business in China even amid soaring tensions between Washington and Beijing — landing the tech giant in the crosshairs of the fracturing relationship.

  • "While China has been a very minimal part of our financial success, we believe China is an important part of our purpose to connect people from around the world," an Airbnb spokesperson told Axios.
  • Rubio called this position "immaterial to the greater concern at hand, which is about whether it is legal or ethical for a United States company to be doing business, directly or indirectly, with a foreign entity sanctioned for human rights abuse."

Airbnb is also one of 14 top-level sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

  • The Biden administration announced Monday that the U.S. will not send any officials to the Olympics, citing the genocide in Xinjiang.
  • Rubio called on Airbnb to withdraw its support for the Olympics, in line with a top executive's pledge in July 2021 to "build on our commitment to anti-discrimination and other important human rights issues."

Go deeper: Read the letter ... Read the Axios investigation

Go deeper